Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Seeing or not seeing.

"The light of the body is the eye..." Luke 11:34

"...watch out in case (you) fail to see the light..." N.T. Wright

Isaac, almost blind and unable to discern which of his two sons deserved to receive the blessing, blesses his younger son.

"Watch that your eye doesn't become darkened."

I'm guilty of too often not seeing or only seeing the veneer, of being in a hurry and accepting a stereotype rather than looking beyond or beneath the outer garment. How easy it is to see things with a one-dimensional view.

It takes time to move beyond the cursory glance to a place where you see the other—really see them.

In Muriel Barbery's book The Elegance of the Hedgehog people choose not to see. They cannot move away from their stereotypes.

Renee Michel, a concierge— a working-class woman, performs her tasks and is invisible as a person to the tenants in the building— who suffer from a serious bout of class-consciousness. Renee hides her intelligence—taking on the mantle of what the people expect from a concierge. She dresses and talks in a manner that fits their expectations.

Two people do see beneath the facade—one a young girl who is a lonely intellectual who sees the world as meaningless. The other person is a Japanese gentleman, Mr. Ozo, who helps unmask Renee.

Seeing involves introspection and contemplation.

To really see another requires time and a willingness to listen and ask questions. But there's also the willingness of the other to be seen.

It's hard to engage beneath the veneer.

Renee's past experiences made her leery of letting the tenants see her as an intellectual autodidact —especially because she knew that they pigeonholed her through the prism of their own biases.

To see —one needs to release, to let go, of preconceived ideas.

To be seen—one needs to release, to let go, of the tough outer garments we wear for protection.

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